African American History Month
In celebration of African American History month, I discovered some especially moving books to share with The Children’s Book Review. Fighting for justice and equality through solidarity and courage, these books uncover the truth of the African American experience whether it’s during the time of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement or even today.
By Kadir Nelson
In truly stunning paintings, Nelson follows the trajectory of the African-American experience in all of its harrowing and haunting glory. Beginning with slavery and ending with the civil rights movement, he gently describes the events to enlighten and as he explains in his gentle prologue, “make some things known before they’re gone for good.” You’ll find more details on Nelson’s remarkable book in these two stories from NPR and The New York Times and additional notes from the publisher. (Ages 8-11. Publisher: HarperCollins)
It’s almost incredible to recall that Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong were not allowed as audience members in many of the theaters where they performed sold-out, standing-room-only shows. In Mitchell’s story, a small-town woman with a magnificent voice decides to bring her granddaughter along on tour. Although they are harassed, refused service and even payment from one stage manager, Grandmama keeps singing to inspire and bring people together with courage and the power of her conviction. (Ages 5-9. Publisher: HarperCollins)
In this eloquent book by Shane W. Evans, author of Underground, he recounts the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. His bold illustrations depict families as they make their way to the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech to the 250,000 gathered before him. This is a testament to the power of people coming together, joining hands, lifting their voices and standing up for their beliefs. (Ages 4-8. Publisher: Roaring Brook Press)
Before it was legal for African Americans to marry, they began a tradition known as “jumping the broom” to commit their lives to each other in the eyes of their community. Set during the Reconstruction, Ellen’s family celebrates as her parents are finally able to register as lawful husband and wife. Minter’s striking pictures were created from linoleum bock prints that bring the old traditions to life. Congratulations to Starling Lyons for her brilliant depiction of a story told through the eyes of a little girl yearning to know more about her parents’ past. (Ages 5-8. Publisher: Penguin Group (USA))
Celebrated poet Ntozake Shange creates fifteen poems filled with the intensity of the brave men and women who risked their lives on their terrifying journey on the Underground Railroad. Rod Brown’s paintings evoke the cruelty they suffered, but also their immense hope and courage to overcome their fears and eventually become free human beings. (Ages 8-12. Publisher: HarperCollins)
This almanac highlights the considerable contributions African Americans have made to the fabric of U.S. society and culture. Perhaps most inspiring about this collection is that it also features the lives of lesser known leaders, artists, and political figures who may have been forgotten if it were not for their inclusion. Essays on legislation and movements with 445 photographs and illustrations make this a valuable resource on the history of black life in America. (Ages 10+. Publisher: Visible Ink Press)
Actor Taye Diggs felt self-conscious about his dark skin and kinky hair growing up in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood, so he decided to create a book to encourage children “to appreciate their differences and celebrate them with a healthy sense of self-esteem.” When a young boy is teased for looking different, his mother teaches him to look in the mirror and love what he sees. Evans’s sweet illustrations add an emotional wallop to his story. (Ages 4-8. Publisher: Feiwel & Friends)
Acclaimed author Patricia McKissack and illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon join forces to present this gorgeous book of free-verse poetry and watercolor paintings about the aftermath families suffered when their loved ones were taken as slaves. McKissack turned to African folktales to tell the story of Dinga and his family through a series of poems told as one tale. Inspired by African woodblock printing fabric, the Dillons created striking paintings we’ll never forget. (Ages 4-8. Publisher: Random House Children’s Books)
Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies,What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To, and Letting Go of Their Daughters; Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond; Crush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love; and The May Queen: Women on Life, Work, and Pulling it all Together in your Thirties. Her anthologies have been excerpted and praised in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, Redbook, Parenting, Cosmopolitan, Bust, Salon, Daily Candy, and Babble.